Model Farm: Farm preparation

by James Kamuye Kataru

Proper farm preparation ensures well-drained soil, a vibrant crop, and fewer challenges at the initial stages of growth. The process is determined by the type of crops a farmer wants to plant, size of the land, the terrain, and other contributing factors. Farmers are advised to watch several SAWBO animation videos on land preparation then choose what works in their individual cases. A walk on the upcoming demonstration farm revealed that our farmer prefers to use raised beds on most of the plots, neatly separated by napier grass that can be harvested as animal fodder. She confirms that after watching the Swahili version of the SAWBO video “Survival Gardening: Raised Planting Beds”, she was inspired to prepare the beds on which she intends to plant beans, soya, and peanuts.

Raised beds under preparation on a farm. Picture by Kataru Concepts.

In our previous blog titled “Planting on raised beds”, we discussed the procedure captured in the animation video, of which I wish to remind farmers that raised beds keep your crop safe and increase yields. The practice reduces soil compaction while increasing its quality. This technique protects plants during excess rainfall because the excess water runs off via footpaths beside the beds. In this farmer’s case, the water leads to a trench dug on the lower part of the farm where she intends to plant several banana stems. 

Why use napier or brachiaria grass?

Besides using raised beds, the farmer chose to separate her plots with neat lines of napier grass propagated from stem cuttings. This was after watching the Swahili version of the video “Climate smart push-pull system for stem borer management in maize,” which recommends planting napier or brachiaria grass around a maize farm and desmodium in between the rows. The desmodium produces chemicals that stem borers don’t like. It repels the stem borers from your maize plants causing them to lay eggs on the napier or brachiaria grass. When the larvae hatches, it feeds on the grass but dies soon after. This saves the maize crop from the ravaging effects of the larvae and provides your animals with sufficient desmodium, brachiaria and napier feed.

In matungu area of Kakamega county, Ramadhan Khatete, a farmer says he prefers to plant brachiaria grass around his farm plots because it matures faster and has a higher nutrition content.  He advises other farmers to plant both napier and brachiaria, especially if they want to increase their dairy production. If a farmer doesn’t rear farm animals, the grasses, desmodium and harvested maize stalks can be used to prepare compost manure or be used in the preparation of raised planting beds.

As we wait for the anticipated long rains in early March, we believe that our model farm shall have taken shape with all plots weeded, compost prepared and ready for planting. We also hope that our readers are walking with us in this process and preparing their farms in readiness to use the knowledge acquired from watching the numerous SAWBO agricultural animation videos. My advice to you all is use these notes to make your own farm “a model farm within your community” and contact us for guidance. This way we shall reach out to more farmers and share videos, experiences, solve farming challenges, impart practical skills, and grow our networks.

An image of brachiaria grass grown on a farm owned by farmer Ramadhan Khatete. Picture by Ramadhan Khatete.

As said earlier, land preparation is very important to ensure that the farm is ready for planting. It controls weeds, provides soft soil mass for root establishment, and recycles plant nutrients. Our farmers are further advised to plow or dig up, mix and overturn the soil which is referred to as “okhuremaka” in the luhya language. After the first plowing, farmers should harrow their fields while breaking the soil into smaller mass, mixing with dried plant residue as they level in readiness for planting. Normally, harrowing, also known as “okhubuusa” in the luhya language, is done one to two weeks after plowing. I believe the outlined procedures will help our readers as they prepare their farms. Meanwhile I can’t wait to take you through a model farm and the success story of a lady farmer who has “turned the soil and made real Kenya shillings” in our next blog. 

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